When Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married, it was called a “fairytale wedding” and the “wedding of the century.” Over 750 million viewers watched the event on TV in 1981. At the time, the wedding cost $48 million, closer to $110 million today.
Despite happening over 30 years ago, the wedding is still fondly remembered. It was so well-documented that reporters got photos of the rehearsal, guests waiting for the ceremony, and even the couple arriving. Many people have not seen these rare pictures–have you?
Receiving The Queen’s Approval
On March 27th, 1981, Prince Charles and Diana went to Queen Elizabeth II to receive approval for the wedding. The 1772 Royal Marriages Act states that all royal couples need the monarch’s blessing for marriage.
This photo was snapped at Buckingham Palace shortly after Queen Elizabeth announced her consent for the marriage. Reporters have pointed out how tense all members of the family look, although this could be due to the constant attention from paparazzi.
Leaving The First Wedding Rehearsal
On June 12th, Diana and Prince Charles left their first wedding rehearsal at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The couple had at least two rehearsals in the month leading up to their wedding. Although there is no formal etiquette surrounding rehearsals, most royal couples have at least one.
Charles and Diana’s wedding was one of the only royal weddings to not occur at Westminster Abbey. Their venue, St. Paul’s Cathedral, has stood in London since 1710. The couple would visit it several times before their big day.
Diana’s Final Dress Fitting
Princess Diana’s wedding dress required 15 fittings. On July 22nd, one week before the wedding day, she had her final fitting. This photo shows Diana leaving the dress shop shortly after her final gown try-on.
Diana got her dress at Emanuel Salon, and it was designed by David Emanuel and his wife, Elizabeth. David Emanuel now works at Kleinfeld Bridal, the setting of the London reality show Say Yes to the Dress. Diana’s dress remained a secret until the ceremony day.
Concept Sketches Of The Dress
David and Elizabeth Emanuel drew concept sketches of Diana’s dress before making it. The sketches were not released to the public until the wedding day. It was one of the most extravagant dresses of the century.
The taffeta gown had over 10,000 embroidered pearls. The train was the longest in royal history, trailing over 25 feet. The veil was even longer, at 153 yards. Diana’s silk shoes, which were designed to match the dress, had 132 pearls and 542 sequins.
Camping Out Before The Wedding
On July 28th, the night before the royal wedding, thousands of people camped out along the procession route. They were willing to sleep outside to get a good view of the royals. Over two million people stood outside to catch a glimpse of the couple.
The ceremony was called “the wedding of the century.” Fans saw it as fairytale perfection, and it became so famous that people still talk about it today. Although the couple divorced in 1996, 15 years into their marriage, the wedding is still viewed fondly.
Party The Night Before The Wedding
Celebrations began on the night before the wedding. On July 28th, fireworks went off above London. As per tradition, Prince Charles lit a procession of bonfire beacons. Over 100 beacons lit up through London, the Channel Islands, Wales, Scotland, and France.
Thousands of people packed London’s streets and parks to celebrate. People brought red and blue hats, shirts, cushions, and flags to show their pride. According to The Washington Post, “the scene resembled the medieval fairs attracted by past royal tournaments.”
Reporters Came Prepared
The royal wedding was highly televised and reported. Over 750 million people watched the wedding on TV in 74 countries. That required quite a lot of reporters. Prince Charles and Diana had to pass by this wall of reporters on the way to their wedding.
Reporters from all over the world set up hours before the ceremony. Some even ate breakfast while sitting at their booth, waiting for the couple to arrive.
Two Princesses Arrived First
The first royals to arrive at the wedding were Anne, Princess Royal, and Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Princess Anne wore a white and yellow floral gown by Maureen Baker. Twenty-seven years later, Anne wore that dress again to Peter Philips and Autumn Kelly’s wedding.
Princess Margaret, the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth II, wore a beautiful pale orange gown. In 2002, Margaret passed away after suffering from a stroke. Fortunately, her memory is immortalized in photos like these.
Diana’s Bridesmaids Arrive
Diana’s bridesmaids all arrived together in a gold-trimmed carriage. Most of her bridesmaids were the family of royals, and all were under 20 years old. The oldest was Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, the 17-year-old daughter of Princess Margaret.
Other bridesmaids included 13-year-old India Hicks, daughter of David and Lady Pamela Hicks; 11-year-old Sarah-Jane Gaselee, daughter of Nick Gaselee; six-year-old Catherine Cameron, the daughter of Donald and Lady Cecil Cameron; and five-year-old Clementine Hambro, the great-granddaughter of Winston Churchill.
Leaders From Other Countries Attended, Too
Several leaders from other countries attended Charles and Diana’s wedding. First Lady Nancy Reagan represented the U.S. in the progression, as seen in this photo. Patrick Hillery, the president of Ireland, attended despite the dispute over the role of Northern Ireland at the time.
Other royal attendees include King Olav V of Norway, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. All of Europe’s leaders attended except for those from Spain and Greece.
Prince Charles Arrives
Prince Charles arrived in a carriage with his brother, Prince Andrew. Both waved to onlookers, and thousands of people snapped photos of them; this is one of those photos. They rode in a 1902 State Landau carriage.
Prince Andrew was one of Charles’s supporters, the equivalent of a best man in royal weddings. The other was Prince Edward, who had already arrived. Charles and Andrew would soon walk up to the altar and wait for the bride to arrive.
The First Glimpse Of The Bride
This is the audience’s first glimpse of the bride. Instead of driving in a carriage, Diana rode in a glass coach with her father, John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, with whom she would walk down the aisle.
Because of Diana’s enormous dress, neither could sit comfortably in the carriage. Six mounted Metropolitan Police officers escorted them. After arrival, Diana had to walk three and a half minutes to the church.
The Cathedral Was Packed
Lady Diana walked through a packed church to join her groom. Over 3,500 guests packed inside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Some of the more famous guests included Margaret Thatcher and her husband, Denis. Politicians William Whitelaw, Leon Brittan, and Michael Heseltine also stood in the crowd.
Diana reportedly spilled perfume on her dress shortly before the wedding. While walking down the aisle, she had to cover the stain on her dress. Her large veil and bouquet helped.
A Traditional Curtsy To The Queen
Royal tradition decrees that the bride should curtsy to royals who outrank them, namely the monarch. Here, Diana curtsies to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles bows his head. Behind them stands Sarah Armstrong-Jones (later Lady Sarah Chatto), one of Diana’s bridesmaids.
To the right, the choir stands along with many church representatives presiding over the ceremony. The two main officiants were Reverend Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Reverend Alan Webster, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Bridesmaids Watch The Ceremony
Unlike most weddings, the bridesmaids did not stand at the altar. They sat with the guests as the ceremony occurred. In the front, 17-year-old Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones held Diana’s bouquet.
Lady Diana actually had two bouquets as per the Queen’s request. Florist David Longman created both bouquets with gardenias, lilies of the valley, stephanotises, odontoglossum orchids, Earl Mountbatten roses, freesias, tradescantias, veronicas, ivy, and myrtles. Sarah acted as a maid of honor and gave the bouquet back after the ceremony.
Awkwardly Exchanging Rings
Here, John Spencer gives his daughter away while Prince Charles hands the officiant the ring. The vows did not go as planned. For instance, Diana mixed up Charles’s name, saying “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of “Charles Philip Arthur George.”
Diana did not promise to “obey” Charles as per traditional vows. The couple had that line removed from the ceremony, which caused a media stir at the time. Prince Charles also mixed up his lines, promising to offer “thy goods” instead of “my worldly goods.”
Leaving The Cathedral As Husband And Wife
After the ceremony, the new Prince and Princess of Wales left the ceremony together, greeted by thousands of admirers. Here, you can catch a glimpse of Diana’s 25-foot-long veil, which trailed along the cathedral’s 550 steps.
Security details surrounded the steps. At least $600,000 was spent on security. In the background, you can see mounds of flowers decorating the entrance to the church. After the couple exited, the Queen would lead the rest of the guests out of the cathedral.
The Official Marriage Register
Here is the official marriage register from the wedding. Prince Charles and Lady Diana signed the book during the ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Their family members also signed the register as witnesses.
Photos of the register went public on the day of the wedding, July 29th, 1981. Upon signing it, Diana received the title Princess of Wales. Later royal couples, such as Prince William and Kate Middleton, chose to keep their register and marriage certificate private.
Diana’s Bouquet Went To An Unnamed Grave
As per a royal tradition, Diana’s bouquet was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The tomb, which is inside Westminster Abbey, symbolically represents all of the soldiers who fought and died during and since World War I.
Stuart Holmes, the Deputy Registrar of Westminster Abbey, placed Diana’s bouquet on the grave after the ceremony. He bouquet weighed four pounds and was 42 inches long. It remained on display at the grave for three days after the wedding.
Right Before The Famous Balcony Kiss
This photo was taken just before the couple’s famous balcony kiss. Prince Charles whispers something to Lady Diana on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The pair’s kiss started a royal tradition.
During the ceremony, Prince Charles forgot to kiss his bride at the altar. Although some called it a sign of the marriage’s future ending, it might have been stage fright. To make up for it, the couple kissed on the balcony in front of thousands of onlookers.